Floating a Bomb

I wrote an “experimental” article back in August where I claimed Apple was going to release the iPhone on Sprint. Of course, this was just a hoax, but I wanted to gauge reaction when people thought they could get an iPhone on Sprint. However, the point of the article was that I thought Apple could “nuke” the landscape of smartphones on a wireless carrier if they simply floated the rumor that the iPhone would be coming to that network “in the near future”. I figured that there were (and still are) many people who really wanted an iPhone but didn’t want to or couldn’t leave their carrier. If these people were given a glimmer of hope that they could soon get an iPhone, they would put off purchasing another smartphone in anticipation of getting an iPhone. Obviously, that kind of thinking could be devastating to the sales of other smartphones trying to gain a foothold in the market.

Recently, there have been a lot of articles being written suggesting that Apple is going to release the iPhone later this year on a multitude of carriers. As I’ve written previously, I highly doubt that Apple is going to release the iPhone for any carriers that are not using the same technology as AT&T’s current network (GSM/GPRS) or their future 4G network (LTE). It simply doesn’t seem to make sense for Apple to devote significant resources to creating an iPhone for network technologies that are soon to be out of use. So the flurry of articles recently written make me wonder if Apple is “dropping the bomb” and trying to derail the momentum of other smartphones.

It seems to make sense. While the various Google phones are not really selling all that well as compared to the iPhone, they have gained a fair amount of “mindshare”, meaning that they are starting to be acknowledged by people as a relevant competitor in the marketplace. However a carefully calculated strike could significantly slow down their momentum. Perhaps Apple feels that this is the time to put the squeeze on their competitors. Perhaps it has something to do with the timing of the iPad. Perhaps it means nothing and Apple is not intentionally doing anything. Or perhaps the articles are correct and we will in fact see the iPhone on other networks this year. But I doubt that last sentence.

Apple iPhone to be Released on Sprint Network

According to various rumors on the Internet, Apple is planning to release their iPhone on the Sprint network as early as next summer. While nothing has been confirmed, the news has surprised a lot of industry experts, who had been expecting a possible announcement for the Verizon network, if anything at all.

Now before I continue this story, I must wonder how many of you are reading this with various levels of excitement and anticipation. Did the headline grab your attention? Did you think to yourself, “this is really big news” or “I’m on Sprint and now I can have an iPhone!” Are you still in a state of disbelief?

Well, I hate to break it to you, but the headline and first paragraph are completely made up. Let’s just call this a little experiment testing how strong of a hold the iPhone has on the market. Please read on and see if you can help me with my experiment!

I had this idea as I was contemplating an article that shows sales of the Palm Pre have slowed since its launch in June. If the findings by Wall Street analysts are correct, it would seem that the Palm Pre simply filled some pent-up demand for an advanced smartphone in the Sprint market. Likely, the Palm Pre sold well among more technical users but not much beyond that. Why isn’t the Palm Pre selling well? Is their marketing not hitting the mainstream market as I’ve theorized in two previous articles (Pre-viewPre-judging Palm’s Ads)? Or is the mainstream simply not interested in the Pre? If they aren’t interested in the Pre, is it because they really want an iPhone instead?

While this “experiment” is far from scientific, I would like you to comment on this article, sharing your initial reaction when you first thought that the iPhone would be available on Sprint’s network (and then what you thought when I revealed it as a hoax!). I’m curious what an average person on the street thinks of the iPhone and its competitors.

Another thought that crossed my mind was that if Apple really wanted to kill the Pre, all they would need to do was float a rumor that the iPhone would be available on Sprint (or Verizon or any carrier that doesn’t yet have the iPhone but has or will have the Pre). My theory is that many people would hold off on purchasing a Pre if given the possibility that an iPhone was around the corner. I wonder if people are doing it anyway, not knowing that the odds of an iPhone on Sprint are very slim for the foreseeable future.

Pre-judging Palm's Ads

Being a business owner, I take an interest in observing how companies market themselves. Being in the technology business, I take a even keener view how technology companies market themselves. This is why I’ve written a few articles about Palm and Sprint’s marketing of the Palm Pre smartphone.

I’ve watched the latest series of Pre ads over the last couple of weeks. The thing that struck me was the abstract nature of the ads. They feature a young woman sharing various deep thoughts about her Pre. Honestly, I didn’t think they were very good because I thought they lacked substance. I don’t think the “existential” nature of the ads are very effective in giving people a reason to go out and buy a Pre.

I purposefully didn’t say anything about the ads to my wife, as I wanted to get an unsolicited reaction out of her. She is a business consultant, so I take her opinion on matters of marketing seriously. Sure enough, just a couple of days ago, she noticed the ad and commented that it was the worst ad she had ever seen in her life. Now, granted, she uses the phrase “… ever seen in her life” quite a bit, but the fact that she said it means she feels quite strongly about it.

I must wonder, who is Palm trying to attract with these ads? Is the market segment that is influenced by “touchy-feely” ads the same market segment that will run out and buy Pre phones? Is this market segment large enough? Apparently, there are many people that feel these ads are actually creepy and/or annoying.

Again, let’s compare the Apple iPhone “there’s an app for that” series of ads. They are simple, straightforward, and effective. Apple’s ads can be summed up in this way: “look at how many things the iPhone can do and how easy and cool it is to do those things.” Then of course, there’s the tagline: “There’s an app for just about anything … only on the iPhone.”

On a side note, it seems the latest iPhone ads are much louder than other commercials. Is this a purposely subliminal design by Apple? I’ve certainly noticed the commercials because the initial loudness does interrupt my general lack of attentiveness when TV commercials are running. Then once I’ve noticed them, my inner-geek keeps me watching. If this was done on purpose, kudos to Apple for implementing such a brain-dead simple way to get people to notice their commercials.

Sprint's Take on the Pre … Is this what Palm Wants?

I just saw a commercial for Sprint where they highlight the Palm Pre. Two things I remember from this commercial is that they mention the “revolutionary Web OS” and running multiple live applications at the same time (which sounds neat, but do average users know or care enough to make this a big selling point?) and that Palm Pre users save a significant amount over AT&T iPhone users.

I must wonder if this is what Palm wants their Pre to be known for – being cheaper than the iPhone. Certainly the “money-saving” theme is very popular in today’s economy, but are smartphone buyers the right target market for a money saving ad? My initial thought is that if someone cares more about the cost of a plan than the actual phone, they probably aren’t shopping for a Pre or an iPhone. But if they were, would they care more that they are saving about $50/month or that there is a $99 iPhone as compared to the $199 Pre? Positioning themselves as the low-cost player could backfire in this case, and it certainly does not help them out in the long run.

On a side note, as I type this Jimmy Fallon is now doing a skit where he parodies iPhone apps. I can’t imagine this happening with any other phone (or any other tech device for that matter). I’ve said this before and I’ll keep saying it – no other device stands a chance of unseating the iPhone until they can compete with the Apple App Store. And if the iTunes music store serves as any sort of precedent, it may be a good long while before they can.


June 6th, 2009 was the 65th anniversary of D-Day, the allied invasion of German-controlled France during World War II. It was also the day that the highly anticipated Palm Pre smartphone was released on Sprint’s network. Many people are noting the potential symbolism of this date for both Palm and Sprint.

The analogy is that the iPhone has so quickly and thoroughly dominated the smartphone market, it has been like the German Blitzkrieg of Europe. Palm, the originator and former leader of the PDA/smartphone market, has been pushed to the brink of irrelevance by its competition. Sprint, a once powerful player in the wireless industry, has fallen upon tough times lately, hemorrhaging customers over the last few years. The fact that the iPhone is only available on AT&T’s network has certainly contributed to Sprint’s troubles. The Pre will either be these companies’ last desperate gasp, or the bold attack that will lead them back into contention. June 6th may have been a D-Day for both Palm and Sprint, but unlike the Allied attack, the outcome of this battle is far from certain.

There are many detailed reviews and articles analyzing the significance of the Pre, as a quick Internet search will show. And the hype surrounding the device is causing a lot of polarization. Many are pitting the Pre against the iPhone in an all-or-nothing struggle, as if there can be only one smartphone in the market. Of course, this is silly, as there is yet plenty of room for competitors. However, perception can be reality and if the Pre does not make a big splash, the media attention the iPhone juggernaut generates could very well drown out the Pre.

My take is that the Pre is quite advanced and feature-wise can compete with the iPhone. However, as has been proven over and over again in the technology industry, it takes a lot more than good technology to make a product successful (a lesson that Apple learned the hard way and is sure to never forget). The unfortunate fact is that Palm has a lot riding on this device (and Sprint to a lesser degree). In a different time and place, one where Palm was a stronger company and where there was no such thing as an iPhone, the Pre could possibly be extremely successful, or at least appear to be much more successful with no iPhone to compare it to. However, this is 2009 and the iPhone has a 2 year head-start in this “new world” of smartphone market, one which Apple basically created. With the speed that technology has been advancing lately, 2 years is a long time for a product to have gained momentum, and few products in the history of tech have had the type of success that the iPhone has had. Add to that the strength of the Apple App Store and it will take an extraordinary level of success for the Pre to dislodge any significant share of the market from the iPhone.

An interesting subplot to all this is the timing of the release date of the Pre. Palm has decided to release the Pre two days before the keynote speech at Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference, where is it widely anticipated that Apple will be introducing a new iPhone device, as well as the 3.0 version of the iPhone software. At first glance, it seems unwise to release a new product only 2 days before your competition dominates the media. But some have theorized that this was actually a smart move on Palm’s part, as it allows the Pre to ride the coattails of the iPhone publicity. In effect, Palm will be co-opting Apple’s media exposure, as there will be much made of the comparison between the two devices. A different release date may have not garnered the same amount of media attention. In a kind of preemptive attack, Palm’s gamble may give the Pre the best chance of success.

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